Chants of “Nikola” rained down on the court at AmericanAirlines Arena from a small subset of the 19,600 fans in Miami after the Miami Heat’s final chance to beat the Denver Nuggets sailed into the crowd. Trailing by two with 2.4 seconds remaining, Kelly Olynyk airmailed an inbound pass into the crowd, letting Jamal Murray ice a 103-99 with a pair of free throws in the final second.
Moments earlier, Nikola Jokic capped an incredible night with a game-winner, throwing up a sky-high floater through contact to give the Nuggets a 101-99 lead with less than three seconds to go. His 29 points, along with 11 rebounds and 10 assists, helped Denver spoil a strong home debut for Dion Waiters. The swingman, who missed more than a year of action because of ankle surgery, finished with a team-high 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting in his first game at AAA this season.
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It was another sluggish start for Miami (19-20) two days after a similar start doomed the Heat in a loss to the last-place Atlanta Hawks. Miami opened 6 of 22 on Tuesday and two of those makes came on putbacks by center Hassan Whiteside, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
As the Heat’s offense floundered, Waiters itched to check in. He stripped off his warmups even a few minutes before coach Erik Spoelstra sent him to the scorer’s table to check in with 47.4 seconds left in the first quarter. From there, Miami’s offense blossomed. Waiters scored nine points on 4-of-5 shooting in 11 first-half minutes and dished out three assists, and the Heat closed the half by making 13 of its last 21 shots to take a 52-49 lead on the Nuggets (27-12) into the break.
In the final eight minutes, Waiters helped lift the offense again. After a three-pointer by power forward Trey Lyles with 7:58 remaining gave the Nuggets an 87-81 lead, the Heat hit back for 12 straight. It began with a corner three by combo guard Josh Richardson, and continued when Waiters got Lyles to switch on to him and canned another three in the power forward’s face. The next two possessions, Dwyane Wade put Miami ahead with a driving layup, then hit post player Bam Adebayo for a circus alley-oop to cap the run.
But in the end, Jokic could consistently deliver and Waiters went cold. Waiters didn’t score in the final seven minutes, missed his last three three-point attempts and went 0 of 2 at the free-throw line. Denver’s star post player went 4 of 4 in the last 5:06.